10 March 2020
"In both London and New York, the [Michelin] guide appears to be out of touch with the way people actually eat,” wrote the late AA Gill, in a typically acerbic Vanity Fair editorial. It’s a sentiment shared by many contemporary writers, who question Michelin’s relevance in a democratised and digitalised world.
Yet to lambast Michelin as totally anachronistic is overstating it somewhat. As leading food critic Andy Hayler observes: “Most chefs regard a Michelin star as an accolade they will boast about to their colleagues, as they can’t be bought.” Sorry Gill, but for many chefs – and for many consumers – Michelin is still the only rating that really counts.
That said, there is, of course, a capricious aspect to Michelin stars that should be challenged. Many critics have highlighted the puzzling trend of Michelin over-marking certain restaurants, while seemingly ignoring superlative chefs who are deserving of a second, or even a third, star.
Presenting Exhibit A: Marcus. Foodies will already be familiar with the backstory: run by the eponymous chef Marcus Wareing, Marcus occupies a hallowed space inside The Berkeley Hotel previously occupied by Pétrus – a joint venture between Gordon Ramsay and his father-in-law Chris Hutcheson, where Wareing acted as head chef. In 2008, Ramsay left and Pétrus became Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, now simply Marcus.
Today, Wareing employs husband-and-wife team Mark and Shauna Froydenlund as joint chef patrons. They continue to pull off the remarkable feat of delivering three-star cooking in what is, officially, a one Michelin star restaurant (a respectable accolade in itself, unquestionably).
In 2014, Marcus underwent a lavish refurbishment. The resulting interiors are at once opulent and yet informal, grand château without the ornamental starch. Mirrored archways, sophisticated artworks and a light colour palette make for an elegant space, but pretentious this restaurant certainly is not.
For exactly why Marcus, in the view of this writer at least, punches above its one-star rating, see its roast native lobster. Paired with radish salad and English wasabi, the dish exemplifies Froydenlund’s approach to cooking – textured, sophisticated, confident, unfussy, delicious. Similarly, the roast Orkney scallop, served with smoked cod roe and a bone marrow vinaigrette, wasn’t a lesson in complexity but a masterclass of keeping things simple – OK, not that simple.
Elsewhere, pan-fried Scottish halibut is served on a chicken butter and a medley of sea vegetables. It is another beautiful combination of contrasting textures and flavours. A dry-aged Galloway beef fillet, served with a side of pomme purée, is rich, exquisite and worthy of the condemnation from your cardiologist.
Such well-considered food deserves thoughtfully paired wine. For that, trust in the advice of Marcus’ charming sommelier Michael Deschamps. Highly knowledgeable and open to as many questions as you can fire at him, Deschamps selects glasses based on the ingredients of each dish, explaining his suggestions in the process.
Marcus, surely, reinforces just how fallible the Michelin rating system is. While a single star conveys a certain cachet, Marcus belongs in a division, or two, above. If Michelin’s assessment of this particular restaurant is anything to go by, a healthy dose of skepticism may be required when the organisation releases its next guide.
Marcus, The Berkeley Hotel, SW1, marcusrestaurant.com